BigTime Practice-Management for Small Businesses

By Adam Stone | Posted August 27, 2003

Like ancient Gaul after the Roman conquest, Brian Saunders' vision of the professional-services world is divided into three parts.

There are the very small firms, just one or two people who can manage their time and money with simple off-the-shelf software. There are the much larger firms, say 90 or 100 people, who can afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars for customized practice-management software.

Then there is everybody in between, and these are the people Saunders wants to reach with his flagship product, a practice-management offering called BigTime. "We want to fill that big gap between buying something off the shelf like a QuickBooks, and spending $50,000 for something much more specific," said Saunders, a principle at BigTime.

This $895 software package does a lot of the same things as other generic practice-management applications. It helps firms to track time, expenses and resource usage. It offers project management and account management functions as well.

Then BigTime goes one step further, with customized features for a range of industries. Different versions of the software have been adapted to serve firms in the areas of advertising, marketing and IT services, as well as lawyers, accountants and diverse others.

"The mechanics are the same, but we can tweak it for each industry, which means the startup time is smaller, and the learning curve is smaller too, because the software really speaks their language right from the beginning," said Saunders.

Less Application Clutter
At New York City-based electrical engineering firm Advanced Electric Design, project coordinator Michael Brown has been working with BigTime since the spring. He is especially pleased with the Web-based nature of the software, which makes the IT management aspects of his job considerably easier. "I don't have to worry about installing another client for some kind of software. As a design shop, we already have all these great big graphics tools on our machines, and the last thing I need is yet another piece of software cluttering things up," he said.

More to the point, the software has allowed employees to budget their time far more effectively. "Anyone can look to see how many hours are allocated to a project, they can log their times in an online time sheet, and it makes it very easy for them to manage their time," Brown said.

Still, there are limits to what this kind of semi-customized approach can deliver. BigTime for example does not address the needs of medical offices, and some say there is probably a good reason for that.

When it comes to medical services, "billing and insurance are just so incredibly complex and detailed these days, you realistically cannot do it unless you are going to devote yourself just to that area," said Jeffrey J. Denning, a medical practice management consultant in La Jolla, Calif.

For those outside the medical arena, however, Denning says a package like BigTime could offer a valuable productivity enhancement. "For an awful lot of professionals, they are selling their time, so timekeeping software for accountants and lawyers and people like that is always going to be needed," he said.

Set Your Admin Free
But it's about more than just keeping track of time: It's about making more time, said Saunders.

How do you make more money in a service business? "The answer is productivity. That means getting the pieces to fit more carefully together. If the people who work for you or with you can fit together better, you can generate more billable hours out of that staff, and that's how you make more money," said Saunders.

Without detailed reporting and record keeping, he said, it is easy to let time slip away. "It's only at the end of the billing cycle that you look around and say, 'Geez! I didn't realize we spent 80 hours on that project when we are only budgeted for 40 hours.' "

A good practice-management package can do more than just generate reports and help to streamline operations. At its very best, Saunders suggested, software life BigTime can help to make work fun again. "This enables people to stop struggling with the administrative aspects of the job and go back to doing what they enjoy, to go back to the vision and the reason they started the firm in the first place."

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